Sunday, January 01, 2006

"If I were Tsar, I would never wage war..."

now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Come on, admit it: you want to make a New Year's resolution to read War and Peace! It will make you feel so accomplished!

I've been reading over the past few days the battle on the Danube, back and forth across the bridge, with Rostov trying to find his courage under fire and various commanders and officials doing various commander- and official-like things.

Mike asks if Koreans talk/discuss/care about Bush and U.S. foreign policy. I'm not sure about the caring, but there is occasional talk. The thing is, I'm not really in a situation where I get to talk much about such things at all. Most of my discussions about the man Dubya are with other foreigners: my co-workers at school (mostly Canadian) and my new American friends, one of whom is in the military, and so forth. I had a great discussion once, with the American's Korean friend's work club guys, over raw fish in Pusan, about U.S.-Korean policy and even "the North." That was largely my American friend and me doing the talking, with participation from two out of the three Koreans present.

At school, in my class of Level Ten 11-year olds, one of the oral test questions was "What do you think of George W. Bush?" Every single one answered, "I think he is bad." Why? "Because he has killed many Iraqi people." (Well, I should say, those who could get the tense right said that. I was more likely to get, "He kill Iraq people." I'm not overly fond of my Level Ten class, by the way. They don't like to put forth a lot of effort.) Then again, a few questions later on the test came, "What do you think of the United States?" The usual responses were, "I think it is very good." Why? "Because it is very beautiful" or "because it is big and rich." But one boy, one of the trio of little punks who make me miserable, said, "I think it is bad." Why? "Because there are a lot of gays." I was shocked and awed.

My impression overall is that the Iraq war left a bad taste in the mouth here as it did most places, but none of my co-workers really say much, nor do they respond to my sardonic comments about my so-called leader. There were definitely protests against Bush and seriously beefed up security outside the embassy in Seoul when Dubya blew through Asia and came here to the APEC summit the other month.

Here are my further impressions: the U.S. military is here in large numbers, most Korean adults desire peaceful reunification with "the North," the propaganda machine driven by the U.S. is in full force about what a threat North Korea is, and the generation of current adolescents is liable to forget North Korea even exists as they are completely distracted by their cell phones and computer gaming. In my level 13 class of 10- to 13-year-olds, one of the oral test questions was, "Should South Korea and North Korea be one country? Why or why not?" They mostly said no. "Because their leader is a very bad dictator." Not a lot of complex analysis of the situation. I heard that a lot of younger people (mostly who weren't born during the war, I'd wager) don't want to reunite because the North is so poor and the South would have to pay for everything. Interesting, since some call South Korea the "welfare queen of U.S. economic aid."

So, I've digressed pretty far from War and Peace, here. But I did find this interesting in what I read today, as Prince Andrei delivers the news to the Austrian emperor and war minister about their small victory:

"It will be as I said in the beginning of the campaign: the matter will not be settled by your skirmishes at Durenstein; as a rule things are settled not by gunpowder, but by those who invented it," said Bilibin. -- p. 200

We fight our wars, and then some great peace accord is signed. Why not just talk peace to begin with?

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